IndustryKeyword Discovery 101, Part 1

Keyword Discovery 101, Part 1

Developing proficiency for identifying and refining your keywords crosses many disciplines. It's important to think about a strategy for your campaign and what goals you wish to accomplish before you begin.

Welcome to this new column outlining SEM fundamentals. In the course of the next year, I’ll cover the basics of PPC, SEO, analytics, social media, and other related topics.

Let’s kick off this series by looking at keyword discovery. Developing proficiency for identifying and refining your keywords crosses many disciplines. Keyword discovery is important for PPC and SEO campaigns, link building, even as it relates to general marketing like writing press releases, product and service descriptions, or even your positioning statement.

The general steps for approaching a keyword discovery project are:

  1. Define your keyword strategy, business goals and objectives.
  2. Identify and build your initial set of keywords.
  3. Refine those keywords and sort them into meaningful groups or themes.
  4. Identify your top performing keywords, test them, and put them into action.


It’s important to think about a strategy for your campaign and what goals you wish to accomplish before you begin. Are you leaning for more of a branding campaign where you’re more interested in being seen in the search results, or are you more interested in driving traffic to your site and, ultimately, a user conversion? This will affect the type of keywords you ultimately go with.

For example, someone who is at the beginning of the buying cycle may start their searching with general terms like “digital camera.” Conversely, someone who uses “Canon EOS 1000D Digital Rebel XS” is probably toward the end of the buying cycle. They’ve done enough research to know which model of digital camera they want and are probably now searching for a good deal.

If you sell digital cameras and have relevant content (and a good price), you’re likely to close this sale, assuming you rank high enough in the SERPs through PPC or SEO. This principle is sometimes referred to as the “long tail.” Chasing the long tail leads to more customer acquisition and conversions, but fewer impressions.

Identify and Build Your Initial Set of Keywords

Spreadsheets are a great tool for capturing the keywords you identify as you go along. The key here is to take the blinders off and look at all possibilities — don’t rule anything out yet. We’ll do that in the refining stage.

Two of the most popular keyword tools are Keyword Discovery and Wordtracker. We’ll discuss these more in Part 2, but you may want to check them out as you work on developing your initial set of keywords.

Within Your Company

Find information that has already been compiled on your products and services. Your company’s Web site, press releases, marketing materials, etc., are all good sources.

Your company Web site keeps a log of all visitor activity in “log files,” or you may already have your site tagged to work with an analytics tool. If not, you may need the help of a computer engineer (or your kids, if you work from home) to locate your log files or have your site tagged.

Free analytics programs like Google Analytics, AWStats, or StatCounter are a great place to start. There are also commercial applications like Omniture, ClickTracks, and WebTrends that offer more features, but for a price. These tools are great for studying user behavior. You can even get glimpses at the keywords visitors are typing into a search engine to find your Web site.

Another area of your company’s Web site is its search engine. If you have a search function on your Web site, you may want to look at what keywords visitors are using.

This is a good indicator of what they’re most interested in on your site. Or it could indicate what they can’t find on your site. Again, you might need professional help to get at this information.

Outside Your Company

Take a good look at your competition. Chances are, they may have already gone through the keyword discovery process. Visit their Web site. Learn what terms they seem to be optimizing for.

A good way to do this: view their source code. All browsers have a feature that lets you do this. The source code will give you a glimpse of their H1 tags, meta description, and meta keywords. Remember: each page of their site might have different information.

Also, consider looking at industry publications, blogs, forums, and other online communities. Get a feel for what people are talking about. What words are they using to describe products and services you may offer?

In Part 2, I’ll discuss methods to expand this list further using some other nifty tools. I’ll then explore ways to refine your list and identify the keywords that are most likely to perform for you.


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